Miscellaneous essays Traduits et annotés

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Under the reign of the emperor Kuang Wu Ti 1, a clerk of a ministry, Pên Kuang of Ju-nan 2 sent in a report containing the statement that the emperor Hsiao Wen Ti 3 lived in a palace of brilliant splendour, and that only three men were sentenced in the whole empire 4. This was a compliment paid to the emperor Wên Ti, setting forth his achievements. But Kuang Wu Ti replied that, in Hsiao Wên Ti’s time, they did not live in a palace of brilliant splendour, and that there were not only three men sentenced.

p2.271 All accomplishments and virtues are put down to those who are famous, therefore the superior man loathes the company of low class people 5. Pên Kuang presented his report to a Han emperor, the Han epoch is our age, yet he exaggerated their merits and excellent qualities, going beyond the truth. Now, fancy the rulers and sovereigns of times out of mind, which have long passed away. When wise men of later ages give glowing reports of them, it is of frequent occurrence that they miss the truth and deviate from the historical facts. Had Pên Kuang not met with Kuang Wu Ti, but made his report ages after, this narrative about Hsiao Wên Ti would have found its way into the classical literature, and nobody would have known that the splendour of the palace and the three sentenced men were exaggerations, and they would have been taken for undeniable facts.



Lost Texts

61. XX, II. Yi-wên

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p2.272 The emperor Hsiao Wu Ti conferred upon his younger brother the title of Prince Kung of Lu. Prince Kung, while demolishing the house of Confucius, for the purpose of building a palace, discovered there a Shuking in a hundred chapters, a Li(ki) in three hundred, a Ch‘un-ch‘iu in thirty 1, and a Lun-yü in twenty-one. When the wall was opened sounds of singing and guitar-playing were heard. The prince alarmed caused the hole again to be closed and plastered, and sent word to Wu Ti, who despatched an official, to fetch the old Canons and the Lun-yü. At this time they all were brought to light 2. When the Classics were taken out from the hole, there were sounds of singing, and playing of guitars. The texts were to be recovered by the Han, and the gay music was a portent accompanying the happy event. They had to be transmitted to the Han, and therefore lay concealed in the wall. Prince Kung pierced it, and the holy emperor occasioned the magical music, for the old texts were not to remain hidden, and the Han were expecting them as felicitous signs.

The emperor Hsiao Ch‘êng Ti wishing to read the hundred chapters of the Shuking, and none of the professors and secretaries understanding it, an invitation was issued to every one in the empire who could adjust the Shuking. Chang Pa of Tung-hai was well versed in the Ch‘un-ch‘iu of Tso Ch‘iu Ming. Following the order of the hundred chapters, he elucidated them with the help of the Tso-chuan, and thus produced one hundred and two chapters, which he presented to the emperor, when they were completed. Ch‘êng Ti took the Shuking that had been stored away, to compare and examine the new book, but not one character was the same. Then he handed Chang Pa over to the judges, who investigated his offence and pronounced it to be a case of great disrespect and irreverence. But Ch‘êng Ti being a great admirer of Chang Pa’s p2.273 talents, pardoned him, nor did he destroy his work. Consequently the one hundred and two chapters became current among the people 3.

Confucius said that [talents are difficult to find.] 4 He whom his genius and his imagination enabled to write a Classic in one hundred chapters, must have been endowed with quite remarkable gifts, and been an exceptional man, such as is seldom met with. Ch‘êng Ti forgave him in appreciation of his writings, for although they were spurious and not true, yet, by following the order of the chapters and sections and adhering to the subjects, they made the impression of being genuine, and therefore were not burned.

In a box of memorials a book is often circulated consisting of ten and more documents, memorials and reports to the throne, the productions of high officials and well worth reading. Their reading gives great pleasure, and not one out of a hundred officials is able to write such documents 2. Chang Pa was so ingenious, that he composed a hundred chapters. The Han era is in fact so like antiquity, that Ch‘êng Ti did well to forgive Chang Pa.

When Yang Tse Shan 3 was chi-li 4 in a circuit, he saw that the san-fu were unable to write a record on the Ai-lao 5. He transmitted a report to his chief, who sent it up to the emperor. Hsiao Ming Ti 6 was struck with it and summoned him to the imperial library 7. The officers of the san-fu, in spite of the great amount of their united talents, could not complete a single chapter, so that Yang Tse Shan wrote it, of which the emperor took cognisance. But was this record quite correct ? Yang Tse Shan wrote it, according to his informations, which the officers of the san-fu were incapable of, with all the documents at their disposal. Since Yang Tse Shan could do it, the thing must not have been very difficult for him. Was, therefore, Ch‘êng Ti not justified in pardoning Chang Pa ?

Under the reign of Hsiao Wu Ti 8, all the officials were convoked to a literary competition, when the essay of Tung Chung Shu won the prize. In the time of Wang Mang the secretaries of the various p2.274 boards were called upon to send in reports, and the memorial of Liu Tse Chün 9 was the best. An elegant form, provided it be not a cover for emptiness, reveals great talent and profound knowledge. The Yiking says that the feelings of a sage appear from his expressions 10. From his good or bad style we may make an inference on a man’s talent.

In the Yung-p‘ing period 1, flocks of spiritual birds alighted. Hsiao Ming Ti issued instructions that panegyrics on these birds be presented to him. All the officials sent in their productions, but they were no better than stones and tiles, only the five eulogies of Pan Ku, Chia K‘uei 2, Fu Yi 3, Yang Chung 4, and Hou Fêng 5 were gold and gems. Hsiao Ming Ti read them. Must it not have been a matter of surprise for him that among the great host of officials, the numerous secretaries included, five men only produced good compositions ?

Hsiao Wu Ti 6 was partial to works of fiction and poetry and therefore invited Sse-Ma Hsiang-Ju 7, Hsiao Ch‘êng Ti 8delighted in voluminous writings and favoured Yang Tse Yün. Even at his hunting parties Yang Tse Yün followed in a carriage. Had Sse-Ma Hsiang-Ju, Huan Chün Shan, and Yang Tse Yün  been officers unable to fill up their documents or to connect their words to phrases, how would Wu Ti have liked, or Ch‘êng Ti have appreciated them ? Therefore I say that to read Yang Tse Yün’s chapters affords a greater pleasure than to be an official with a thousand piculs a year, and holding the book of Huan Chün Shan in one’s hands, one is richer than having heaped up treasures.

p2.275 The work of Han Fei Tse was current in the court of Ch‘in, and Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti said with a sigh :

— Alas ! that I cannot live together with this man ! 9

Each time that Lu Chia 10presented a new chapter of his ‘New Words’, the attendants of Kao Tsu exclaimed

— Ten thousand years ! 

Can this passionate remembrance of a man and the enthusiastic exclamation ‘Ten thousand years’ have been for nothing ? They were outbursts of joy from the innermost heart, upon clearly seeing the excellence of these persons.

Meteorologists look up to the sky, but not on the earth, for they derive their information from the heavenly signs. Upper and lower garments cover the body, but the embroidery is on the upper, not on the lower ones. So far dresses resemble heaven. Palmisters examine the left palm, and do not look at the right one, because the lines on the left are decisive. Contrariwise, diviners turn to the right side, and neglect the left, for the signs at the right are conclusive. The Yiking says :

[« The great man changes as the tiger (changing its stripes), his signs are brilliant, the superior man changes as the panther (changing its spots), his signs are elegant.] 1

And further :

[« We look at the signs of Heaven, and look at the signs of man.] 2

That means : Heaven and man are to be judged by their signs, and the actions of the great man and the superior man depend on their signs.

When Kao Tsu was still in his mother’s womb, she reposed on the banks of a lake. Then a scaly dragon appeared on high, emitting a glare of brilliant light. When Kao Tsu started from Ch‘u, to meet the army of Han, a fluid formed five colours, and when he was about to enter Hsien-yang, five stars united near the ‘Eastern Well’ 3,and these stars had five different colours  . Perhaps Heaven was indignant at the destruction of literature by Ch‘in and p2.276 wished the Han to renew it, and therefore first invested Kao Tsu and used those signs as omens 4.

The designs of wicked people, at different periods, are in-consistent. Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti first sighed over the work of Han Fei Tse and afterwards, at the instigation of Li Sse, caused the text of the Five Classics to be burned, and enacted a law restricting the use of books. The scholars of the Five Canons took the Classics and concealed them ; men like Fu Shêng stealthily buried them in the earth 5. Wiping out the texts of sages and worthies is a most heinous crime, and the descendancy of the culprit was already cut off with his grandsons 6. Li Sse who deviced this plan, had to suffer one of the Five Punishments 7. The Han dynasty, after its accession, changed the rules of doomed Ch‘in and obliterated the traces of Li Sse. Kao Tsu first ordered Lu Chia to write books, but the Five Canons did not yet come to light at that time. From Hui Ti and Ching Ti 1downward to Yuan Ti and Ch‘êng Ti  the Canons and the books were simultaneously revised. The glory of the Han dynasty and what we hear of its declarations are quite something else than those of doomed Ch‘in.

Owing to the perversity of Wang Mang  , the armies of the Han began swarming about. Halls and palaces fell into ruin, and books and manuscripts were scattered about. After Kuang Wu Ti arose 2, the preservation of old books was not yet very careful. The era of Hsiao Ming Ti 3 was very favourable for men of letters, officers were appointed to the imperial library, and the heroes of literature assembled. When our present sovereign had taken the reins of government 4, the search for lost antiquities was authorised by edict, and they were bought with gold. Can this age not lay a claim to the fame of being a literary one ?

p2.275 The period of Yao and Shun being so remote 5, the books of that time which existed are lost 6. The Yin and the Chou dynasties 7, however, are so near, that their writers have been preserved 8. The works handed down since the commencement of the Han 9 do not reach very far, but the experiences made are five times as many as those of Yao and Shun, and ten times those of the Yin and Chou dynasties. There has never been a more delightful and a more glorious time than the present. The sky is bright and clear, the stars glow with brilliant light 10, the characters of the people are excellent, and they handle literature with a sublime elegance. The Han are now at their acme, whence the profuseness of literary productions.

Confucius said,

[— Wên Wang is no more, but have we not here his writings ?] 11

The writings of Wên Wang were transmitted to Confucius. He composed his works for the Han, to whom they came down.

Literary men receive their writings from Heaven and should, therefore, be held in respect. The Five Canons and the Six Arts form one class of literature, the records of the various writers are another, essays and treatises are one class, memorials and reports are one, and so are the descriptions of generous and virtuous actions. The representatives of these five classes of literature are all worthies. The composition of essays and the writing of discourses requires the greatest efforts, for to give expression to the thoughts of one’s heart and to discuss the events of life, is a more arduous task than to comment upon old Classics, or to supplement old texts. Arguments are one’s own ideas, for which the signs are formulated by the hand. That exceeds the faculties of the expositors of the Classics and arts.

In the periods of the Chou and Ch‘in, a great many philosophical writers were busy, but they all took up other subjects, neither praising the sovereign nor profiting the State nor promoting civilisation. The essayists eulogise the emperor and exalt the State, p2.278 so that its dignity is upheld for a thousand years, and the sovereign’s virtue equals sun and moon. That is what the writings of the philosophers cannot accomplish 1.

Memorialssuggest practical measures, and reports recommend officers, the first are in one’s own interest, the second in that of others 2. The style may be rich and refined, but the memorials do not mention meritorious deeds. He who cultivates his moral self has his own interests in view and not those of the ruler. Consequently, among the five classes of literature, essays have the highest value and should be estimated accordingly 3.

Confucius remarked respecting the Chou,

[— The time of the dynasties of T‘ang and is outshone now ; the virtue of the house of Chou may be said to have reached the highest point indeed.] 4

Confucius was a literary man of the Chou epoch. Had he lived in the Han time, he would also have pronounced the virtue of the Han to have reached the highest point.

Chao T‘o as king of the southern eh revolted from his lord, disregarded his commands, and did not observe the institutions of the Han. He would squat down, his hair bound into a tuft, and completely abandon himself to the customs of the savages. Lu Chia spoke to him of the virtue of the Han and so overawed him with the emperor’s majesty, that his conscience awoke, he felt remorse, and suddenly rose up from his seat 1.

The narrow-minded scholars of our age live under the same delusion as Chao T‘o, and the remonstrances of great writers are like the reproofs of Lu Chia, which rouse those who hear them from their lethargy.

Chao T‘o’s conversion was not owing to extraordinary reports about the glory of the house of Han, but the placid serenity of a man of letters 2 were signs of the prosperity of the State. From their magnificent buildings we recognise noble families, and high p2.279 trees indicate an old capital. The fact that eminent literary men live in a State proves that it is the age of a sage.

Mencius would judge people from the pupils of their eyes 3 : the heart being pure, the pupils are bright, viz. the colour of the eyes is bright. The prognostics for a State and the divination for an individual give the same result : when the ruler of a State is a sage, men of letters assemble, and when the heart is kind, the eyes are brilliant.

An exquisite silk embroidery being dragged through the mire every spectator feels shocked. To be able to pity a piece of embroidery, and to have no idea of the worth of a man ofletters, discloses a great ignorance of analogies.

As regards the signs of Heaven and the signs of man, does their writing merely consist in mixing the ink and plying the pen, with the object of producing beautiful and elegant pictures ? No, these signs record men’s actions and give publicity to their names. Honest men desire to be taken notice of and strive for virtue ; wicked once, on the other side, dislike publicity and do all they can to frustrate it. Thus the pencil of men of letters encourages the good and censures the depraved. This is the manner in which posthumous titles illustrate virtue and stigmatise crime.

Even by the addition of a posthumous name in one character, people may be praised or censured, and knowing this, every one is on his guard. Much greater still is the power of pen and ink, which determines goodness and badness. All the sayings and doings are put on record, perhaps in thousands of words, handed down from generation to generation, and giving a picture of the deceased, therefore not to be despised.

When Yang Tse Yün was writing his Fa-yen  , a rich man of Shu sent him an enormous sum of money, to the end that he might be mentioned in the book, but Yang Tse Yün refused, for a rich man neither benevolent nor righteous, is but like a stag in a fence, or an ox in a hurdle ; why should he be mentioned without reason ?

Pan Shu P‘i 1, in continuing the work of the Grand Annalist, also mentioned his fellow-citizens as a warning for wicked people, p2.280 for the iniquitous and unprincipled thus clearly marked out and signalised, could not eschew the shame. As Yang Tse Yün did not belaud for wealth, so Pan Shu P‘i was not disturbed by sympathies, for the pen of a writer cares for nothing but justice. Worthies and sages having confided their thoughts to the pen, many strokes of the pen form a word, and a number of words bring out a sentiment, the reading of which enables later ages to distinguish between right and wrong, for why should a false statement be made ?

Feet walking on the ground leave prints that may be nice or ugly, and the words formed of strokesmay indicate a good or a bad character. Therefore, by explaining the foot-prints, one gets an idea of the feet, and from reading the words, one learns to know the character of the person described. [Should one sentence express the purport of all the 300 Odes of the Shiking it would be :

« Do not harbour wicked thoughts,] 

and for ten and more chapters of the Lun-hêng one device might be chosen, viz.

« Hate fictions and falsehoods.



The Knowledge of Truth

79. XXVI, II. Chih-shih

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p2.281 Whenever people in their discussions depart from truth and do not bear out their propositions by evidence, their arguments may be never so pleasing, and their reasons never so abundant, yet nobody believes them. If we urge that Sages are not in possession of superhuman powers or prescience, and that in this prescience they do not possess a peculiar kind of knowledge, this is not a frivolous assertion or futile talk, but the result of conclusions drawn from the human faculties, and there are proofs and testimonies to establish the truth. How shall we show it ?

[Confucius asked Kung-Ming Chia about Kung-Shu Wên, saying,

— Is it true that your master speaks not, laughs not and takes not ? Is this so ? 1

Kung-Ming Chia replied,

— This has arisen from the reporters going beyond the truth. My master speaks when it is the time to speak, and so men do not get tired of his speaking. He laughs when there is occasion to be joyful, and so men do not get tired of his laughing. He takes when it is consistent with righteousness to do so, and so men do not get tired of his taking.

Confucius said,

— Is it so with him ? Is it so with him ?] 2

There are men on earth as selfless as Po Yi who would not accept a straw from others, but none that would neither speak nor laugh. Since his own heart did not tell Confucius this, that he might have decided for one alternative, his heart wondering and not believing the reports, he cannot have had a penetrating intellect or seen things from afar, thus being able to determine the truth. He had to ask Kung-Ming Chia, to know the matter. This is the first proof that Confucius did not possess foresight.

Ch‘ên [Tse Ch‘in asked Tse Kung saying,

— When our master comes to any country, he does not fail to learn all about its government. Does he ask his information, or is it given to him ?

p2.282 Tse Kung said,

— Our master is benign, upright, courteous, temperate, and complaisant, and thus he gets his information.] 1

Benignity, uprightness, courteousness, temperance, and complaisance are tantamount to obsequiousness. Men are well disposed to him who is obsequious to them, and being well disposed, they will give him information. Thus Confucius obtained his information about government from what people told him. This was neither supernatural nor an independent knowledge.

Duke Ching of Ch‘i inquired of Tse Kung whether his master was a Worthy.

— My master, rejoined Tse Kung, is a Sage ; why should he merely be a Worthy ? 2

Duke Ching was not aware that Confucius was a Sage, and Tse Kung corrected the term. Tse Ch‘in neither knew whence Confucius derived his information about government, and Tse Kung had to communicate to him the true facts. Since he answered Duke Ching,

— My master is a Sage, why should he merely be a Worthy ?,

he also ought to have given to Tse Ch‘in the reply that he was superhuman and endued with spontaneous knowledge, so that he needed not listen to what others said. The reply of Tse Kung to Tse Ch‘in is the second proof that Sages have no foresight.

When Yen Yuan was cooking his food some dust fell into his pot. If he had left it there his food would have been impure, had he thrown it away he would have spilled the rice, therefore he picked it out and ate the rice. Confucius, witnessing it from a distance, was under the illusion that Yen Yuan ate stealthily 3. This is the third evidence that Sages have no foresight.

Fierce highwaymen lie in ambush, leaning on their swords, and ferocious tigers crouch in jungles, gnashing their teeth, in wait for their prey. Those who know it do not venture to proceed, and if somebody does not know it, he runs into the swords of the fierce highway robbers, or falls into the teeth of ferocious tigers. The people of K‘uang 1 surrounded Confucius 2. Had he foreseen it, p2.283 he ought to have taken another road in time, to avoid the danger. But he did not foresee it, encountered it, and came to grief. This surrounding of Confucius is the fourth proof that Sages have no foresight.

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